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Top Ten Things I Haven't Mentioned: #8, School

One of the major life changes that accompanied our move to the dream house was the kids' enrollment in the small city -- I mean huge elementary school -- down the street. Over the summer I was apprehensive and concerned about the size, the schedule, and the curriculum after two years of taking for granted the competence and comfort of the small, specialized schools at each kid's disposal. I pushed past the fear all summer mainly because there were a few pesky demands on my time like surgeries and trips to Canada and clinging to sanity one minute at a time, but also because I was hoping the positives of having free education available to both kids within a mile of our house would outweigh the negatives of whatever paranoia I had created in my head about large schools.

Hey, guess what, world? You know that saying, "just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me?" Let's see. Bryce spent the first eight mornings at school crying in class as his easily over-stimulated self tried desperately to process the chaos of recess, bathroom trips, lunch room confusion, and unfamiliarity with everyone around him. Quinn is so different from his intense older brother that he had the world's happiest transition, but his teacher is apparently the school's version of PigPen, papers and chalk dust constantly swarming around her, kids careening with glee from one end of the classroom to the other, no routine to speak of, no communication to parents dropping off and picking up kids, deer-in-the-headlights stares and one-word answers when asked for basic information about the day, the expectations, the progress. The curriculum for both kids' classes is the same material they were covering last year (and the year before in Bryce's case). In an effort not to taint the kids' view of school, I try to ask neutral questions and sound supportive of the teachers, but it's all I can do not to grind my tongue down to a bloody stump in the process. Within two weeks, we'd had conversations with coordinators, counselors, teachers, and principals. The school district uses words that suggest they are willing to work with us, but I haven't seen any major change yet.

For the first two weeks of school, at bedtime, Bryce would regale me with stories of playground and classroom fun - from his old school. When I'd re-focus the conversation to prod about his new school, his eyes would well up with tears and he'd launch into the details evidencing his misery. "There are three things: One, there are so many kids in the morning that sometimes people run into me. Two, like I've told you before, at recess when I try to make friends with people, they just won't listen to me. And three, I really miss dad because we had a great summer playing games and going to the park."

Quinn's teacher called John one day in the middle of class: "Here, I need you to talk to Quinn because he's made some bad choices. During free play, he and two other kids made a HUGE mess and dumped out three tubs of toys in the play kitchen." When I saw Quinn that night and I asked him for details, he said she'd yelled at him and hurt his feelings, so he'd said, "I'm going to tell my dad on you and you're going to get in trouble!" That tidbit of information combined with the suspicion that her emotional maturity leveled out around age 15 made her phone call (over which we'd previously been bewildered and confused) seem like a perfectly logical conclusion, which is really quite horrifying when you think about it. Oh, and then there was Quinn's attempt at telling me the whole story, her response to his threat: "NO, when I talk to your dad, YOU are the one who'll be in trouble."

Various circumstances led us to this move, this decision. I knew there would be transition and challenge, and I knew John and I would have to be more directly involved with the school administrators than we'd been in the past. But I wasn't expecting stories of being lost and alone in the cafeteria, or days of watching movies in class with no explanation or communication from teachers, or so many talks with administrators in such a short period of time.

Bryce has stopped crying in class but still refers to his old school almost daily. Quinn's typical happy nature has carried him through a less than ideal first "real" classroom experience, and he is on a waiting list for a class with a teacher that will provide a better environment for him, but I am more than uneasy about the associations he's making with the ideas of school and teachers. I want the kids at the same school and I know this particular district has the resources to do a better job than what I'm seeing right now, but at this point, I'm not ruling out any possibilities.